State Theatre Company Review: The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race

WHO: State Theatre Company SA
WHAT: The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race
WHERE: Royalty Theatre
WHEN: 8-19 June 2021
COST: $39-$79 – view here

Appleton seems to encapsulate the typical small Australian country town. It is host to an array of residents that mostly shy away from change, and reject leftist ideals and the new ways of city slickers moving back to town.

Penny (Anna Steen) returns to her childhood home right before the annual Appleton Show and its famous potato race. She learns the men’s race winner is awarded $1,000 and the women’s prize is a disparaging $200!! Spurring her on the path to achieve potato sack race equality, even at the expense of sparking a culture war and butting heads with prominent small-town naysayers.

Penny’s quest to fundraise the difference in prize money takes us on a journey to witness the opposition Penny faces, not only from the town, but notably other women. Including the Appleton show’s long-time organiser Bev (Carmel Johnson), and resident race winner, her sister Nikki (Sarah Brokensha). 

Throughout the performance, it is evident that the women of Appleton shoulder the responsibilities of organising the show, while the men are never present, yet Bev and Nikki almost encourage the disparity in race winnings.

However, despite their reluctance and resistance, we observe their gradual transformation in an empowering and uplifting way. Underlined by Aunty Barb (Genevieve Mooy) whose fight for potato sack equality has been 30 years in the making. Despite the hilarity and antics these women get up to, it highlights an important message about women’s equality. 

Also interwoven into the narrative is Rania’s experience of being a migrant woman in a small town. Her balancing act in desiring acceptance, integration and sharing of cultures, whilst also standing up for what she believes in and experiencing both outright and casual racism, is much too familiar with many Australian migrants’ stories. Yet her upbeat attitude, and perseverance for potato race equality is inspiring. 

This production is inspired by true events, and Melanie Tait brings to life a heart-warming comedy and affectionate Australian story, with a deeper underlying substance about women’s equality and what it takes to fight against country town patriarchy.

5 stars

– by Rachel Wong

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